Psst. I'll let you in on a little secret: a system's motherboard is rarely a limiting performance factor. The CPU, graphics card, and to a lesser extent storage (mostly whether it's solid-state or not) largely determine application and game performance. The CPU's accompanying platform hub is responsible for most onboard I/O, which means boards based on the same chipsets tend to deliver identical peripheral performance, as well.
Even though we know that motherboards tend to offer equivalent performance, we still test them thoroughly to be sure. To put the Z77-ITX's performance into perspective, we've singled out a few results from the mass of test data we've accumulated. The board was tested against comparable Mini-ITX models from Asus and ASRock, both of which are based on the same Z77 Express platform.
There was a time when memory performance was an important differentiating factor for motherboards. Then the number of core-logic chipsets dwindled and the memory controller moved onto the CPU. As long as you're using the same memory speed and timings, as we were, the Z77-ITX WiFi should offer comparable memory bandwidth to other platforms using the same CPU and DIMMs.
The Zotac board's relative position versus the competition changes from one application test to the next, but the results are very close overall. You're looking at performance differences of only a few percentage points at most.
We see similarly close scores throughout our peripheral testing, and for good reason. SATA and USB connectivity are provided exclusively by Intel's Z77 Express platform hub—the very same chip used by every other Z77 board. However, there are a couple of exceptions worth noting.
The Z77-ITX WiFi's USB 3.0 write speeds pull up short in both CrystalDiskMark's sequential test and our real-world RoboBench test. (RoboBench invokes a multi-threaded file copy using Windows' built-in robocopy command.) The CrystalDiskMark test uses 1GB files, and RoboBench's movie set is filled with files in the 700-800MB range, so the problem appears to be confined to longer sustained writes. There's no sign of issues when writing RoboBench's mixed file set, which is loaded with much smaller documents, images, and MP3s. The Zotac board also matches the USB read speeds of its peers.
Well, it matches the other stock implementations of Intel's USB 3.0 controller. Asus offers special USB Boost software that can accelerate performance with certain hardware combinations, including when a USAP-compatible device is plugged into ports associated with the ASMedia controller. Zotac doesn't have anything comparable.
We'll round out the performance highlights with a look at boot time, since the Z77-ITX sets itself apart from the pack a little, at least with its fast boot option enabled. This feature cuts down on device initialization during the POST process and shaves nearly five seconds off the board's boot time, allowing it to slip into first place. The fast boot option is configurable, and users also have the option of setting a time delay for the initial POST screen.
Provided they're based on the same form factor and platform, motherboards tend to exhibit reasonably consistent power consumption from one model to the next. Some differences can arise when boards start loading up on third-party peripheral chips and fancy power circuitry, though.
The Z77-ITX WiFi's lack of an auxiliary USB 3.0 controller might explain why its power consumption is lower than the other two boards, both of which feature additional ASMedia chips. However, the Zotac-powered system only consumes less power when idling and playing 1080p YouTube video. When taxed with our full system load, which comprises rendering a scene in Cinebench 11.5 while running the Unigine Heaven DirectX 11 demo, power draw at the wall socket is actually higher than it is for the competition. Looks like Zotac's power regulation circuitry is less efficient when the system is stressed.
If you're in the mood for additional performance results, keep reading. There's more benchmark data to come after the following page, which describes our test methods in detail while also providing a full rundown of the Z77-ITX WiFi's vital specifications. We've covered all the highlights already, so we won't be offended if you skip ahead to the conclusion.
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